The University of Georgia football program has handed the University of Cincinnati their first, and ultimately only, defeat in their 2020-21 season. The Bulldogs won the 2020 Peach Bowl on Jan. 1 with a final score of 24-21.
"It's tough, it hurts," said head coach Luke Fickell in a statement following the game, a little choked up. "Every one of those guys [in the locker room] hurt because they care so much, they sacrifice so much, it is what it is."
Although 2021 has ushered in, the COVID-19 protocols of 2020 are still very much in place. However, the limited attendance of 15,301 marked the 24th consecutive year in which the Peach Bowl has been sold out.
The game was a thriller throughout. Although Cincinnati led by as much as 11 points going into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs remained dangerous throughout the game and shut out the Bearcats in the final period of play while putting up 14 points of their own. Most importantly of which was a 53-yard field goal by Jack Podlesny that gave Georgia the lead and left only two seconds on the clock.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder was once again Cincinnati's offensive playmaker for much of the game, making key plays throughout the game. Ridder threw more passes in the Peach Bowl (37) than any other game this season, accounting for Georgia's #1 run defense.
Georgia's ferocious defensive line collapsed the pocket often, even sacking Ridder an impressive eight times, forcing Ridder to move out and make throws on the run and occasionally keep it for himself.
A shining example of this was the Bearcat's final drive of the first half. Offensive lineman James Hudson was called for unnecessary roughness, moving the offense out of the redzone 15-yards back. Subsequently disqualified from the game for targeting, Hudson's replacement, sophomore Lorenz Metz, had several costly penalties of his own as the game progressed.
Ridder pulled the offense back together, though, and escaped Bulldog pressure by running towards the left then back over towards the center of the field, where Ridder threw against his body across the field to find tight end Josh Whyle for perhaps one the longer 11-yard touchdown passes to end the half in front 14-10.
Starting off the second half was a 79-yard rushing touchdown by freshman Jerome Ford, furthering the momentum in UC's direction. However, Ridder could not lead the offense to another point for the rest of the game, as the Georgian defense stepped up their game.
Ridder finished his day 24-37, with 206 yards and two touchdowns along with one fumble, which came at the start of the fourth quarter. While the offense as a whole hardly showed up in the final period of play, totaling only 22 yards in that time.
"We flew out here and had a two-day business trip, we like to say," Ridder said postgame. "We'd been ready to play this game for a long, long time. It's just disappointing the way it ended."
It didn't help the Bearcats case that the offensive line committed far too many penalties in critical situations, including two separate occasions of a false start on third and short, ultimately resulting in James Smith's punts.
"We've had some issues this year with that," said Fickell. "When you're mixing guys around in there, as the seasons going to be, those little things play in more and more, you got to clean up. It's happened to us late in the year because of the playoffs, but that's no excuse."
Cincinnati entered the second half with four penalties. Still, it ended up finishing with a costly number of 11, which cost the Bearcats a total of 80 yards, contributing to an effort where the Bearcats ended up backfired on themselves. At the same time, the Bulldogs made sure to take advantage.
The Bearcats finish their season 9-1 and must now look forward to next season, while the Bulldogs conclude at 8-2 and will continue celebrating the Peach Bowl title in Atlanta.